Knesset Discusses Sabbath Demonstrations; Refers Issue to Committee

After heated exchanges between secular and religious party deputies, Israel’s Parliament voted today to submit to a House committee the issue of Sabbath demonstrations in Jerusalem by ultra-Orthodox zealots.

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, who replied to six opposition motions for general debate on the clashes in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim quarter, urged patience. He reminded the Knesset that a Ministerial Committee was studying the possibilities of an alternate route to the one used by travelers through the Mandelbaum Gate between old and new Jerusalem. The present route skirts the Orthodox section.

The Premier said it was the duty of the Government to maintain public order as well as free traffic on the city streets and the route involved is a main artery. He also stressed that nowhere in the world, whether in the largest or small Jewish community, was Sabbath observance as full or Jewish life maintained more completely, than in Israel.

That comment was directed particularly to the Rabbis and Rebbes. The Prime Minister alluded to recent critical pronouncements made on the subject by such religious personalities. He also rejected charges that the police were “unduly harsh” in coping with the demonstrators last Saturday.

The first deputy to propose general debate was Victor Shem-Tov of the left wing Mapam. He urged more stringent police and government measures against the zealots in the name of freedom of conscience and freedom against religions coercion. Pinhas Rosen of the Liberal party said that the issue was one of law-abiders and non-law abiders. namely, those who intervene with legitimate traffic by roadblocks, and not a secular-religious conflict.

Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz of Agudat Israel said he had visited the area and interviewed persons there, including women he said were beaten by police. The rightist Herut’s Menahem Beigin said that the Government had erred in sending large numbers of border police to handle the disturbance. He said the police action was tantamount to punishment.” Yaacov Katz of Poale Agudat Israel urged that police exercise restraint and understanding and thus avoid “the shameful actions” of the past week.

Leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Neturei Karta indicated yesterday their intention to intensify their struggle against traffic on the Sabbath developing from use of the Mandelbaum Gate between old and new Jerusalem. The sect leaders said that they will “evacuate” women and children from their quarter in order to prevent them from being hurt. The ultra-Orthodox groups also proclaimed tomorrow as a day of fast and prayer and scheduled a mass rally tomorrow night.

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